Sunday's denial of Rajya Sabha ticket to Union minister indicates that an end game to the JD-U-BJP rift may be in sight.
M I Khan reports from Patna.
Nitish Kumar has denied Union Minister and senior Janata Dal-United leader Ram Chandra Prasad Singh the JD-U nomination for next month's election to the Rajya Sabha. Khiru Mahato, a JD-U MLA from Jharkhand, has been nominated instead.
Singh, an IAS officer turned politician, who was once a Nitish confidant, has reportedly become close to the Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi.
Though both Nitish and R C P Singh claim they continue to have good relations with each other, the JD-U's denial of a Rajya Sabha nomination indicates that the Union minister has fallen out of favour with the Bihar chief minister.
It also indicates that the JD-U and BJP relationship is on uneven ground. The parties are in a coalition government in Bihar.
Singh met Nitish on Thursday night, but that Singh's relationship with Nitish is not what it was even a year ago is more than evident.
For one, he has no picture of Nitish on his Twitter account, which instead has a picture of Prime Minister Modi in the banner.
Singh has also not mentioned that he is a JD-U leader in his Twitter profile.
Sources in the JD-U had told this reporter earlier this week that Singh may not be renominated for the Rajya Sabha because of his moves to project himself as more loyal to the BJP than to Nitish and the JD-U after he became a Union minister.
"If the party does not renominate Singh, it will send a clear message to the BJP that Nitish is not happy with his ally's politics to lure Singh and in case Singh is renominated again, it will end all the speculation of bitter relations with the BJP," a political observer had told this correspondent on Thursday.
The JD-U had authorised Nitish to name the candidate for the lone JD-U Rajya Sabha seat falling vacant in Bihar, leaving it in his hands to decide R C P Singh's fate; the minister's Rajya Sabha term ends on July 5.
After R C P Singh's appointment as a Union minister last July, there has been speculation that the BJP could use him -- a former JD-U president -- to split the JD-U and weaken Nitish, leading to his exit as Bihar's chief minister. Nitish and Singh both belong to the Kurmi caste.
For the last few days, there has also been a buzz in political circles in Patna that Nitish and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav will join hands again to oust the BJP from the state government.
Others are confident that the ruling JD-U-BJP alliance will continue, with Nitish as CM, despite the current disagreements between the two parties.
Nitish Kumar is a master of realpolitik, which is reflected in the fact that with a mere 45 JD-U MLAs he heads the government in the state and his ally, the BJP, the single largest party in the state assembly with 75 MLAs, supports him.
But Nitish is clearly not comfortable that the BJP has weakened him on his home ground in the last five years, or that it will replace him with one of its own as chief minister sooner or later.
Only last month some BJP leaders issued statements that a BJP MLA will become chief minister and Nitish would quit as CM to go to the Rajya Sabha, which clearly has not happened.
BJP leaders were so upbeat over reports of of Nitish's likely resignation that they even floated the names of three party leaders to replace him.
Sensing the BJP moves, Nitish is playing a different game now.
It started with the growing differences between Nitish's JD-U and the BJP on various issues, his reported discomfort with the saffron party's Hindutva agenda and his growing closeness with RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav over the demand for conducting a caste census in the state.
Amidst the political temperature heating up, Lalu Yadav, who was granted bail in a fodder scam case, arrived in Patna on Wednesday night after a gap of more than three months, and all eyes are on him for dropping any hints about his old political associate turned adversary.
Last week, Nitish and the JD-U chose not to target Lalu after the Central Bureau of Investigation raided 16 premises linked to him and his wife Rabri Devi in a 2004-2009 land-for-jobs scam case registered against them.
A day after Nitish called the all-party meeting on caste census at 4 pm on June 1, the BJP announced it would attend it.
After several BJP leaders opposed the caste census since last year, Kumar's closeness with the RJD on the issue forced BJP state President Dr Sanjay Jaiswal to announce that the party will attend the all-party meeting.
Both the RJD and the JD-U strongly supported the caste census, unlike the BJP.
Senior RJD leader Shivanand Tiwary says, "Nitish Kumar has fulfilled his objective by putting pressure on the BJP by showing closeness to Tejashwi as an alternative, and the BJP, which was against the caste census, is now compelled to support it."
Satyanarayan Madan, a political observer in Patna, believes Nitish will continue his alliance with the BJP as both the JD-U and BJP need each other to be in power in the state.
"Nitish Kumar saath mein hai aur aage bhi BJP ke saath rahenge, kyon ki rajniti BJP ke control mein hai, kewal kursi Nitish ke paas hai (Nitish Kumar is and will remain with the BJP because he knows politics is in the BJP's control while he only has the chair)," says Madan.
Madan, who has known Nitish Kumar since his Samta Party days in the mid-1990s, adds that the chief minister's stand on the caste census, his supposed proximity to the RJD's Tejashwi Yadav and differences with the BJP on some issues are all part of his face-saving politics.
"Nitish Kumar has been doing one thing in public," says Madan, "but doing another thing for his political goal."
Feature Production: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com